On Writing

October 19, 2005

I guess I write better than most folks, I can admit that. But before reading further, dear reader, we should establish one fact between us: the only thing I really know about the craft of writing is the fact that I’m not nearly as good at it as I’d like to be. Everything I say beyond that should probably be heavily salted, eyed with deep skepticism and then, if you are wise, discarded entirely. With this caution firmly in mind, read on – if you dare!

When I have an interesting idea (rare enough) I often find that the words I need to describe it are simply not there, or that the ones which do present themselves adamantly refuse to be arranged in a pleasing and elegant way. And then, much like the plot of a dream that unravels at the moment of waking, these bits of inspiration evaporate before I can write them. The thoughts which please me are too fleeting, the words to describe them too slow in coming, and then it is gone. Perhaps this is just the curse of mediocre minds: we feel something of greatness within and yet it can never emerge fully-formed and whole.

I read somewhere that a writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. But this can’t really be true. If it were I, who find the act of writing positively agonizing, would be a bestselling author. My difficulty and frustration come from the fact that I can easily recognize good writing but can only rarely produce it; my vocabulary is limited, my sentence structure is stunning in its ability to obscure a point, and my punctuation can only with charity be described as “creative.” My bizarre abuses of the semicolon alone are enough to convict me in any court of writing! And if that all wasn’t enough, I have a tendency toward inflated diction that seems all the more ridiculous in the context of my otherwise amateurish prose. Effective writers take their words by the hand and escort them in an orderly and graceful fashion through the halls of meaning, like debutantes. I myself cannot resist the urge to dance with them on the way, first doing a raucous bump, then segueing gracelessly into a deadly serious tango, and finally exiting in a silly chorus-line formation.

I can’t help if I am tasteless! My palate was never properly educated. Perhaps If I’d had training things could have been different. Perhaps if I had studied literature, creative writing and composition in college I might have been able to write for a living. It’s not even that I believe someone can really teach you how to write well, but that the disciplined practice of writing might have sharpened my skills enough to make me passable. Systematic preparation might not have made me “a contender,” but it is for lack of those academic experiences that I now shout: I could have been adequate!


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  1. If it makes you feel any better, I write for a living and I often don’t feel like I know what I’m doing. Like you, I enjoy writing and feel like I’m moderately good at it, but I kept being offered higher and higher positions on the totem poll without feeling entirely worthy of them, until I eventually got the position that I have now.

    Sometimes in my job I feel like a sham, and feel that I’ve only been able to keep it this past year because no one is paying much attention to my writing. Other times I realize that it’s much more likely that they ARE aware of my writing skills, and that I’m just way too hard on myself.

  2. I’m not exactly sure what characteristics define a “writer”. I do love to write, but I have never referred to myself as a “writer.”

    My writing technique involves being hit with idea, jotting the idea down in a nonsensical manner, and then trying to sort it out over many edits — not quite as fun-sounding as your dancing and bumping. šŸ˜‰

  3. Edit?? Perhaps that’s where I’m going wrong!


  4. You summed up the way I often feel about my own writing. Maybe that’s why I’m an editor instead of a writer. All we can do is keep at it, I guess!

  5. I love the fact that you come here, Karen, but at the same time I cringe just knowing you read my writing! šŸ™‚

  6. I think part of being a good writer is being a good reader. And your dance metaphor is wonderful.

  7. If you like to read good writing, why on earth do you read my page? I’m a terrible writer!

  8. The funny part about that, Heather, is that I have never even had one negative thought about the quality of your writing. I’ve never event thought about it. I’m too interested in what you’re saying, I guess. Which is a big vote of confidence in itself!

  9. Your writing is wonderful. Keep up the great work. And remember:

    Sometimes an elongated yellow fruit is just a banana.

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